Opening a comic shop is a major commitment in money, time and sanity. Many have the itch and inclination to do so, but lack the experience in sales, customer service and business acumen. The rise of the local comic show presents a low cost opportunity to test the waters and see if a comic shop is a dream worth pursuing.
Selling at a local comic show will provide experience in these key areas: inventory or asset management, pricing, customer service, merchandising and basic accounting.
There are currently hundreds of one to three day comic shows operating in North America, in cities of all sizes. Do an internet search to locate one within a reasonable driving distance. Your cost will be the price of a table, normally eight feet of retail space. That should be enough space to handle on your own and fill with inventory from your personal collection. One day shows will be the cheapest venue and provide the the best opportunity to get your feet wet. If no comic shows are anywhere near your location scout out flea markets and book shows.
Every prospective comic shop owner has a personal collection that is the seed for their store inventory, and as such provides more than enough for the comic show. The key here is to go through your collection and determine what you’re willing to part with, and of that what would be the hot sellers that deserve to be highlighted. Keep in mind you only have one eight foot table to sell from: extra inventory can be kept behind or under the table but customers will only buy what they can see and handle. If you have some big ticket items for sale keep them close to you: that’s why most retailers at shows have a rack or portable wall they set up behind their table. Shoplifting is an inevitability so keep the higher priced items away from temptation.
Now that your inventory is chosen go through and price everything. While the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is the industry reference it’s frequently out of date for trending and hot books. For an overall look at how things are selling use eBay’s search function and check “Completed Listings”. Put a price sticker on everything so customers can see what you’re charging as they go through your inventory: nothing slows down a sale like customers having to ask for each item “how much is this?”. Don’t use post it notes; they’ll just fall off at the most inopportune time.
Once your inventory is priced catalog it. A simple document with one item per line showing title and price that you can check off as they sell will let you know at a glance how things are selling and how much money you should have taken in. As well you’ll know what everything was priced at in case some of your price stickers fall off or go missing.
Be sure to have a good amount of small denomination change with you: $1 and $5 will be needed to make change since most people will invariably hand you multiples of $20. Don’t try and take a payment method other than cash: there’s time enough to register for electronic payments and credit card processing. No matter what don’t take a cheque from anyone. People know most shows are cash only and come prepared.
If you’re going to work the show alone bring along snacks and a lunch, and be prepared for a long day without bathroom breaks. If you can have a friend come along for company; even someone stopping by mid show would allow you to get away from your table and see what’s happening at the other tables.
Unless you’ve attended this show before the layout and particulars of the floor will be unknown, so show up early and get acquainted. Make note of where the closest cash machine is in case you need to direct a potential buyer. Regular show sellers will have racks, shelves and other display equipment for their area, but that’s best left for your second or third outing. Don’t set up right away: walk the show floor and look at other dealer’s prices to get an idea if you’ve over or underpriced your goods.
Now comes the make or break of a comic retailer: dealing with customers. People will want to share their comics experiences with you, reminisce about past plotlines, and generally eat all your available time. Luckily because of the show format this type of lingering will be limited, but does present an opportunity to create a following. And since it’s a show be prepared for haggling. While you can stick to your original pricing, offering a small discount to buyers of multiple items creates a sense of goodwill and gives the consumer the feeling that they “got a deal”.
A small one day show is the perfect opportunity to see if comics retailing is for you, and after you’ve arrived home from the show you’ll know if it’s a good fit. Being your own boss and running business should be about enjoying what you’re doing and making money. Was the interaction with customers enjoyable? Answering questions, haggling, sharing stories about particular books or storylines: these are the bread and butter of comics retailing so a satisfaction in accomplishing these tasks at the show bode well for more.
This is an opportunity to see what retailing is all about and as such you will not make much money this time around; maybe no money at all after paying for your expenses. That’s this time: if you decide to do another show the experience in pricing, merchandising and salesmanship will only help the future.